Sitting down at the white table, I stare into the strange meal in a box my host sister has handed me. Apparently her and my definitions of a kebab differ slightly. Mine includes meat, usually chicken, grilled on a stick. Hers is some sort of thinly sliced meat covered in a mystery white sauce. All resting on top of a helping of pomme frites, or french fries. Taking a deep breath a plunge my plastic for in. My hunger overcoming my pickiness.
Danish is tossed rapidly across the table as my host sister and her two friends begin a seemingly heated discussion. Sitting in the corner I slowly eat my strange meal. Deciding that while I still wouldn’t call it a kebab, it was still good. Later I would be informed via jealous friends on snapchat that I am eating shwarma.
Still to shy to say anything to the two strangers at the table and unable to join the conversation in Danish, I pull out my phone to scroll through Facebook. Getting sucked into the world of social media I start to watch a video. All heads turn as the sound starts to fill the kitchen. I sheepishly lower the volume.
As the video comes to an end the young girl to my left peeks over at me. Turning then to my host sister, a new stream of excited Danish spills out. I too turn to my host sister. Wondering what is being said.
“Ahhh… she wants to know where you are from”, she deciphers out. Now all three girls are looking at me. I turn to the original asker of the question and answer, “Minnesota”. Based on the puzzled look on her face I clarify, “in the United States, in the middle”. At the mention of the US her face immediately brightens. Gaining confidence she starts to practice her English, asking me questions directly. Rapidly the questions spill out, “do you like trump?” “Where do you like to buy your clothes?” “What’s your favorite candy?”. I do my best to answer each question honestly. Laughing at the mention of Tump, I find it entertaining how interested Danes of all ages are in him and my opinion of him. “Target” I say about my favorite place to shop. Their confusion only worsens as I try the describe the magic of my favorite store. To answer the candy question I get up and walk to a kitchen cabinet to retrieve some of my favorite “American” candy that my parents had sent me for Valentine’s Day. Offering it up to the table be shared. Slowly they pick up a sweet tart and eat it carefully. Each soon decides they like it. I offer them more.
After a moment of enjoying the tart candy, they start to ask more. “Have you ever shot a gun?” “Do you own a gun?”.
I explain to them that while I don’t own a gun or have ever shot one, members of my family have. This is another questions Danes like to ask. In general I get the same response to each family member. They react with great respect and understanding when I tell them my dad, a retired police officer, has a small hand gun. With equal respect they also laugh at the photo I show of my older brother, who is in the army, holding a large dangerous looking gun of some sort. But they all are in disbelief at why my grandpa would ever find enjoyment in owning a collection of guns and shooting them each week at a gun range as a hobby.
Using cowboy/gun slinger hand signals the friend then asks, “if a stranger came into your yard, could you shoot them?”. I think for a moment before answering, “well it depends, if you did you would have to be able to argue it was in self defense not just at random”. There is a bit of confusion at this. Even after my host sister try’s to translate they seem to still be confused at the idea of it.
My basic understanding of guns in Denmark is this: The gun laws are very strict. Private firearm possession is for hunting and sport shooting only. Hunting licences and valid weapon permits must be obtained to do so. It seems that for average Danes, or at least the ones I have interacted with, guns are only for police and military personal. The idea of owning a gun for the heck of it is absurd and just a weird American thing that can lead to dangerous situations.
Before coming to Denmark I had struggled with what I should bring with me to share American culture with my Danish host family. Beyond a jar of peanut butter and a box of craft Mac n cheese I wasn’t sure what was something truly original to American culture. When I shared my problem with my mom she gave a simple answer. It was something to the effect of “you might need to leave and experience a different culture before you can see what exactly is American culture”. In this conversation with three twelve year olds about guns I realized, truly realized and not just blindly went along with the fact that guns play a large role in American culture, for better or for worse.